Legendary guitar slinger Trey Anastasio brought his solo band to the Tobin Center Tuesday night, marking his San Antonio debut. Perhaps it’s because Austin is more hippie-friendly and right up the road, but Anastasio’s main ensemble — jam stalwart Phish — in 36 years of performing has never visited the Alamo City.
The Trey Anastasio Band, or TAB, and Phish are different animals, despite sharing a primary songwriter and huge chunks of repertoire. Phish is a four-piece and tends to keep things looser, switching keys and moods during the improvisational, psychedelic jams that are its calling card. TAB, on the other hand, is an eight-piece outfit that tends to lock into a groove and stay there, allowing Anastasio and its horn section to trade off solos while keeping the crowd dancing.
Anastasio has used his solo band — now active for more than 20 years — to showcase both new material and his arranging skills, elements in abundance on Tuesday. Having a drummer and a percussionist hold down the rhythmic foundation allowed a funky, horn-accented take on the early Phish classic “Camel Walk.” In fact, percussionist Cyro Baptista proved a stage stealer in his own right. He used not just an array of traditional percussion instruments but also employed plastic tubes and flippers(!), all the while sporting a big grin and laughing with other band members, particularly Anastasio. The joyful vibe was infectious.
Anastasio’s guitar work is steeped in the blues, he spoke that language fluently in “Alaska,” showing one of his most potent weapons in the extended solo workout: patience. While he’s noted for playing long solos, it’s less well known how he makes it work — which is playing softly and letting the room breathe before building to sustained electric shrieks.